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#18 1952 Belgian Grand Prix

2021-04-11 00:00

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#1952,

#18 1952 Belgian Grand Prix

Decisamente l'autodromo di Monza non porta fortuna a Fangio. Quasi sempre l'argentino è stato costretto al ritiro da guasti alla macchina. Nel Gran Pr

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On Sunday, June 8, 1952, in the Grand Prix from the Autodrome, we will witness the first confrontation of the year, between the World Champion Fangio and the best Italian drivers. The rivalry is very strong, and in this regard, an exceptional demand for tickets from the public is outlined. Rarely has Monza brought good luck to the Argentine driver, while demonstrating, every time, his sublime class. The presence also of his compatriot Gonzalez gives the race the tone of a full-scale confrontation between Italy and Argentina. Even technically, the test is fascinating and hinges on a first: the debut at Monza of the new 6-cylinder Maseratis entrusted precisely to Fangio and Gonzalez. Recent experiments yielded significant results: the World Champion drove the Maserati in 2'07 "o on the 6300-meter track. For a two-liter car without a supercharger, it was a record. Then Farina - on Saturday, May 31, 1952 - tried a two-liter four-cylinder Ferrari, proven by many successes. And he set a time of 2'06"0. So there is a balance between the two makes, as a speed cue. But now in the latest tests, the racers are aiming not so much at the lap record as at finding the right pace for the race. It is assumed that they will march on the pace of 2'10"0-2'13"0 per lap, depending on the weather and the struggle. Endurance of effort should be their determining factor. Such a fine lineup of names deserved perhaps a more organic, sterner, more spectacular race than the one formed by the two races that will be held on the Monza circuit, which by their very regulatory structure, and for being reserved for Formula 2 cars, cannot lay claim to that halo of classicism that makes the autumn event on the same racetrack, the Monza race par excellence. The race formula is somewhat unusual: christened last year, even with lower mileage, it involves two separate races in two consecutive times, contested by the same competitors, who are ranked by the sum of times.

 

Thus scientific rather than spectacular racing: in fact, while this formula has the merit of renewing the thrill of the start twice, it takes away the immediacy of evaluation, entrusted to calculation and not to direct observation: and it does not dispel the suspicion that, if more competitors could have been counted on, the battery formula would have been preferred. However, since two halves make a whole lineup of cars, and the 442 kilometers of the two races added together to form a respectable mileage, welcome also the sum-of-the-time race, which can reward with the overall first place, hypothetically, even those who placed neither first nor second in either race. Formula 2 cars are, as everyone knows, the two-liter naturally aspirated, supercharger-less cars, which, if they have not yet reached, nor appreciably approached the power and speed of Formula 1s, are no longer, however, the mere derivations from the sports cars that the early days of the new formula had brought into contention. Today we are at powers of the order of 88-90 horsepower per liter, which for displacements of this order seem to constitute something very close to the practical limit of what is attainable even on small and fractional displacement engines, the 100 horsepower per liter being considered insuperable, at least of resorting to fuel injection in place of common carburetion. It is this procedure precisely, allowed by the formula, and still essentially new despite laboratory successes, that Ferrari is apparently about to experiment with for the future sports season. For today, at Monza, the Maranello team lines up in the official team of four four-cylinder cars, of the type that Taruffi so brilliantly displayed on his first outing at the Circuito de! Valentino. Ascari, Farina, Simon and Villoresi ride them. Taruffi, the leading scorer for the 1952 World Championship, raced and won at Ulster. Brand new, on the other hand, is the antagonist car of the 4-cylinder Ferrari, as much as it is the old glorious Maserati, which shares with the former its Modenese homeland: a curious fate and specialty of the Emilian town.

 

The new 6-cylinder even appeared, in testing, to be able to hold its own against Ferrari in pure speed, and perhaps surpass it. Of course, the unknown is how well it holds up to the strain. That being said, it must be admitted that the Monza racetrack does not bring Juan Manuel Fangio luck. Almost always the Argentine was forced to retire by car failures. In the Lottery Grand Prix, the World Champion went off the track at full speed and was transported to the hospital. Fangio had arrived in Monza at 2:00 p.m., an hour before the start of the race was given, after the exertions of a journey full of vicissitudes. On Saturday afternoon he had participated in another race in Belfast, Ireland. His plan was to transfer immediately to Lyon by special plane and then continue by car. Instead, bad weather forced the plane's pilot to advance the leg to Paris. Thus the stretch by car was much longer and more tiring. Fangio should have completed the five regulation laps in the morning to be eligible for the Grand Prix. With chivalrous sportsmanship the other drivers allowed him to race anyway. In the starting line-up, which is done according to the speeds obtained by the racers in practice, the World Champion's Maserati is confined to last place, at the rear of all the other twenty-eight cars. Nonetheless, by the second lap, Fangio is already in the seventh position; but perhaps he asks too much of his nerves, tired from the almost sleepless night, and he blunders through the very difficult Lesmo curve, infamous because it has fooled so many other drivers in the past. One section of the curve is slightly counter-sloping to the outside. Whoever makes the slightest mistake there is lost. The car swerves precisely outward, hits the protective straw bales, bounces in the air and performs three pirouettes on itself before plunging back to the ground. Fortunately, the driver in the second of these pirouettes is thrown out of the car and falls onto the grass on the lawn, later being picked up unconscious and transported at full speed by ambulance to Monza Hospital. Fortunately, doctors quickly determine that his injuries are not too serious. Meanwhile, the Scuderia Ferrari cars dominate the race. Ascari takes over the first position from the second lap.

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Farina was second, a short distance behind Ascari. The Turin ace, deceived by the incorrect indications of the tachometer, which does not work properly, loses some ground from Ascari with each pass, shifting gears at the wrong rpm. Farina still managed to maintain the second position. Some 20 seconds behind the Ferrari driver, Gonzalez's Maserati and Villoresi's Ferrari alternated in third, while Frenchman Simon, Ferrari's fourth driver, tailed Bonetto's other Maserati. Then halfway through the race, the magnet on Villoresi's car stops working properly. Gonzalez thus moves up to the third place, while Villoresi drops back to sixth. On lap 27, Gonzalez's Maserati's magnet also fails, and Fangio's compatriot is forced to retire after long and stubborn attempts to get the car running again. Of the new six-cylinder Maseratis, therefore, only Bonetto's remained In the race. The Ferrari is now the master of the day all the more so because Simon goes on the attack, overtakes Bonetto and crosses the finish line third. Villoresi on the thirty-second lap gets out of the car to push it by hand for a long way, to the finish line finishing eighth. A half-hour break, then the second race. In fact, the Grand Prix at the racetrack involves two races, both 35 laps long. The final standings would result from the sum of the times obtained by the individual drivers in each race. During the interval, in a grandstand next to the pits, the winning lottery numbers are drawn, with the first prize of 40,000,000 Italian liras. Each of the lucky tickets will then be matched to the name of one of the 29 racers. The prize will be given to the holder of the ticket matched to the Grand Prix winner. For both Ascari and Farina, tickets sold in Rome come out of the urn. At 5:00 p.m. the second start is given to the sixteen remaining runners in the race. Villoresi renounces to take the start again. For eighteen laps Ascari and Farina struggle spasmodically, alternating in the lead almost every lap.

 

The two cars darted at 200 km/h in each other's wake, separated by no more than two meters, giving life to a beautiful duel with the same mechanical means, showing the identity of values between the Turin ace and the Milanese. But on lap 19 an engine failure stopped Ascari's car, which had to retire. Farina impetuously continues his fine sprint. To evaluate the former World Champion's performance it should be kept in mind that the average of the second race he won was higher than Ascari's in the first race. Farina, after struggling to sign at least 200 autographs for the admirers besieging him, goes to the Monza hospital to visit Fangio. The Italian driver brings the flowers he received as a tribute at the finish line. Fangio, though in slight shock, recognizes Farina. The two bitter rivals shake hands as tears stream from their eyes. Fangio reports abrasions to an arm and a leg, swelling of an eye, and a fairly deep cut to the back of the head. The latter injury was caused by the helmet hitting his neck in the impact against the ground. It will be necessary to wait a couple of days before the confidential prognosis is resolved as a result of the mild shock. Initially, it is thought that the World Champion could be out of the hospital within a week, and return to racing soon. However, a more thorough examination will reveal a fracture in the cervical vertebra, which will force the Argentine rider to take absolute rest in the following months, effectively ending his season. Unprecedented sporting success is expected for the great 24 Hours of Le Mans speed car race in which the Italian couple Ascari-Villoresi, among others, will also participate, at the wheel of a 2715 cc Ferrari. As early as the night of Thursday, June 12, 1952, training shifts began on the circuit, during which each pair could run on the track for the duration of four hours to set up and tune the car. On Saturday, June 14, 1952, at 4:00 p.m., the start will be given. Many crowds attend these first practice sessions; those entered are admitted to them after a meticulous check of the cars, engines, accessories and bodies, a check that lasts a full two days. Indeed, the regulations of this race are very strict.

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Ascari and Villoresi also had to undergo checks and warnings from the stewards because their Ferrari was equipped with powerful headlights illuminated by white lamps, which are formally prohibited in France in general and in this race in particular. This is admittedly a minor inconvenience. Thus, while the motorcycle marathon will take place in Italy, the 24 Hours of Le Mans will take place in France. Despite the fact that on Friday night a hurricane turns the pits for refueling cars into swimming pools and the circuit's roads into torrents, this inconvenience fails to dampen popular enthusiasm; the second night of training is therefore as successful as the previous one. The Italians Ascari and Villoresi, in Ferraris, make a great impression; in fact, without giving the feeling of forcing the engine speed to the maximum, Ascari achieves the strongest average lap time of 172.801 km/h in 4'41"0. He is followed in order by Frenchman Simon, in a Ferrari, in 4'46"0, averaging 169.829 km/h, and Villoresi, in 4'44"0, averaging 165.208 km/h. German Alex Neubauer completes a few laps in a Mercedes equipped with a large metal wing. Neubauer's car causes a sensation and raises a controversy. The German engineer, in fact, presses a pedal in the course of practice, raising on the roof of the car the strange wing, which is about thirty centimeters high, and apparently is an important part in braking, relieving the work of the normal brakes. After a quick conference, the race officials acknowledge the legality of the system for racing purposes, and Neubauer declared that he would decide only during the race whether or not to use his original brake. On Sunday, June 15, 1952, at the end of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a great speed car race that began on Saturday, June 14, 1952, by fifty-seven cars, Lang and Riess's Mercedes triumphs, and it is the Mercedes of Lang and Riess, which completes 3738.780 kilometers (at an average speed of 155.574 km/h) during the day's racing, demolishing the record set last year by a Jaguar (3611.193 kilometers).

 

The Germans had prepared thoroughly for the Le Mans test, and in fact managed to place another Mercedes in second place, piloted by Helfrich and Niedermayer (3720.260 kilometers). Kling, who was piloting the third Mercedes, had been forced to retire by a mechanical failure during the night from Saturday to Sunday. The 2718 cc Ferrari of Ascari and Villoresi, whose testing was awaited by the engineers, set the lap record at 4'40"5 ( at an average of 173.159 km/h), but it did not live up to its promises as it was one of the first to enter the underground corridor leading to the shed, more commonly called the cemetery of lost hopes; it had not been three hours since the start of the race. The race was very interesting from the first hours. The first to stay fairly long in the lead were Manzon and Behra (Gordini 2600) at nearly 160 km/h average speed until 4:00 a.m., when a brake failure forced the two Frenchmen to retire. Their position was taken by the Talbot 4500 cc piloted by Levegh-Marchand, but an oil pipe failure caused the irreparable fusion of a connecting rod bearing. At about 2:45 p.m., or three-quarters of an hour ahead of the end of the race, the collapse of Levegh's Talbot naturally favored the immediate pursuer, namely Lang, who In tandem with Riess, was performing a vigilant waiting race, without losing sight of Levegh. Lang, in turn, was followed by the other Mercedes piloted by Helfrich Niedermayer, while the British crew Jonhson-Wisdom - on Nash-Helaoy - was by then almost 200 kilometers behind. Remarkable performance by the Lancia-Aurelia piloted by Valenzano-Ippocampo and Bonetto-Anselmi, who took sixth and seventh places, respectively. The race, held on the 13.942-kilometer circuit, was attended continuously for twenty-four hours by about 200.000 people, with sultry temperature and some fog during the night. The performance index trophy goes in favor of the French Hémard-Dussous, on a 612 cc Panhard-Monopole, with 1284 points. They are followed by Lang-Riess with 1274 and Helfrich-Niedermayer with 1269 points.

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The 1952 Belgian Grand Prix will also have the honorary title of the European Grand Prix of 1952. The long and treacherous Spa-Francorchamps circuit will play host to the third round of the world championship, three weeks after the season opener's at Bremgarten in Switzerland and the Indy 500 in the US. The three weeks in between the Swiss and Belgian rounds of the championship see much action in the non-championship races in Formula Two. However during this time, there will be notable tragedy in the lead-up to the Belgian Grand Prix. Luigi Fagioli, the famed pre-war racer who has been a championship contender in 1950 as well as the joint winner alongside Juan Manuel Fangio of the 1951 French Grand Prix has suffered serious internal injuries in a touring car race in Monaco. Shortly after this, Fangio himself, the reigning world champion has broken his neck whilst racing the new Maserati A6GCM for the first time at the Monza Grand Prix. Fangio it seems will survive, however it is likely his injuries will keep him out of racing for the remainder of the season, leaving little hope in defending his crown. His former Alfa Romeo teammate, Fagioli, however is not so lucky. Only two days before the race at the Belgian Grand Prix, Fagioli at age 54, has succumbed to his injuries. As has been predicted pre-season, Ferrari and their new 500 model car are proving dominant in each grand prix, championship and non-championship alike. Giuseppe Farina has been unlucky to not win at Bremgarten, he therefore gifts the win to teammate Piero Taruffi. Both drivers will return to drive the Ferrari 500 at Belgium, however they will now also have to compete alongside Ferrari's top driver, Alberto Ascari. Ascari has an unsuccessful attempt at entering the Indianapolis 500, missing the season opener in Switzerland. Also missing the opening round in Bern is Lugi Villoresi, a road accident has caused great injury and he will have to wait still longer for his motor racing return.

 

Louis Rosier enters a private Ferrari 500 entrant for his team, Ecurie Rosier whilst Charles de Tornaco will also enter a private Ferrari 500, making his Formula One debut at his home event for Ecurie Francorchamps. With the exception of Maurice Trintignant, Gordini enters their usual line-up of Robert Manzon, Jean Behra and Prince Bira. The team also enters a fourth car for Belgian, Johnny Claes. Claes will get his first race for a works team in the championship, the Belgian usually competing as a back-marker privateer. Claes has also purchased an old Simca-Gordini chassis that he will continue to enter in future events to replace his old Talbot-Lago. The car is loaned out to Robert O'Brien, an American sportscar driver who will make his debut in Belgium whilst racing Claes's car. HWM enters a total of four works cars into the Belgian event. Regular drivers, Peter Collins and Lance Macklin are joined in the team by guest drivers, Paul Frère, a Belgian motorsport journalist who has demonstrated some good skill behind the wheel and Roger Laurent, another Belgian who usually works for the Ecurie Francorchamps team. HWM will also have presence from the privateer car of an Australian Second World War flying ace turned racer, Tony Gaze. For the first time, the ERA manufacturer will be entering a works entry to the world championship. The company has produced a new G series of its cars, being designed by part-time racer, Leslie Johnson. The car has proven troublesome in its opening test sessions at Silverstone and Lindley, the car's test driver, Cameron Earl is in fact killed at a test session whilst developing the car. Stirling Moss has swapped from HWM in Switzerland to ERA for Belgium, the young British hopeful leading ERA's first works entry into the championship. The private squad of Ecurie Richmond will return for Belgium, the Cooper T20 has a successful debut with Alan Brown scoring points in the car's first attempt. Brown and teammate, Eric Brandon will once again be representing the squad in Belgium.

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A third Cooper-Bristol will be entered for Mike Hawthorn, another young British hopeful with a lot of talent. Hawthorn, after only a single season of Formula Two demonstrates incredible talent, his drive being financed by entrepreneur Robert Chase and his Cooper T20 being entered and maintained by a team run by his father, Leslie Hawthorn. Frazer Nash has an encouraging grand prix debut in Switzerland when their driver, Ken Wharton, drives a quiet and consistent race to bring the car home in an impressive fourth position. Frazer Nash and their Scuderia Franera racing team are once again entrants in Belgium, Wharton once again behind the wheel of the car. A lone Veritas Meteor chassis will be entered for the Belgian Grand Prix by one of Belgium's best pre-war racers, Arthur Legat. Now largely retired from racing, the 54 year old Belgian veteran makes a one-off return for his home grand prix. Another new British manufacturer to hit the grand prix scene is the Aston-Butterworth, a joint-venture from racing driver Bill Aston and designer, Archie Butterworth. The car entering the grand prix scene in 1952 will see use in Belgium from the British privateer Robin Montgomerie-Charrington. The practice sessions are totally dominated by Ascari in his Ferrari 500. The Ferrari lead driver is three seconds faster than teammate Farina in second, whilst the third Ferrari of Taruffi is a further seven seconds off Ascari's best 4:37.0 time. The Ferrari's are left unchallenged in the timesheets, Manzon's Gordini in fourth is fifteen seconds behind Ascari's pole time. Behra continues to impress by putting his Gordini into fifth. The British contingent follows thereafter, Hawthorn in his first grand prix leading the timesheets to put his Cooper sixth on the grid. Hawthorn is remarkably nine seconds faster than Alan Brown in the second fastest Cooper. Brown, however will be glad to escape a large accident in practice unscathed. Brandon is the final Cooper driver in twelfth position. Wharton's Frazer Nash is right behind Hawthorn on the timesheets whilst the local driver, Frère is the fastest of the HWM cars in eighth.

 

The new ERA has a troublesome debut, Moss has very little track time, his car having continually piston problems in the engine. Moss however does well to recover and put the ERA in tenth position, a single place ahead of HWM rival, Peter Collins. De Tornaco is disappointed to be only thirteenth in his private Ferrari 500, however he still outclasses the other privateer Ferrari of Rosier who is stuck down in seventeenth. Macklin of HWM is in fourteenth whilst the Aston Butterworth's debut at the hands of Montgomerie-Charrington will start from fifteenth. Gaze, driving the private HWM is in sixteenth ahead of Bira in the old Simca-Gordini model. Claes is well off the pace, his first works drive with Gordini sees him manage only nineteenth on the grid, he sits ahead of fellow Belgians, Laurent and Legat. The final grid position is occupied by O'Brien's Simca-Gordini, six seconds slower than Legat's Veritas, one grid place ahead of him. The practice sessions is completely dry, however as the cars begin to line up on the grid, a downpour begins to afflict the circuit. At the start, Taruffi stalls his Ferrari and falls to ninth position. Manzon, forced to take avoiding action around Taruffi's motionless Ferrari also drops back. Behra makes a fantastic start, by the end of the first lap he moves past Farina and Ascari to take the lead of the race. By the end of the first lap, Behra leads ahead of Ascari, Farina, Hawthorn, Wharton, Frère, Brown, Manzon and Taruffi. Moss performs also a good start, he moves his ERA up into fifth position, however he does not make it to the end of the first lap. The ERA's troublesome engine seizes, locking the rear wheels and sending Moss spinning off the circuit. Behra takes the initial lead, however Ascari and Farina continue to pressure him, on the second lap whilst exiting La Source, the wild Behra spins, dropping behind the two Ferrari's. The Ferrari's thereafter begin to open up a lead, Ascari gradually pulling away from Farina in second. The rain is falling more heavily, however it does not prevent the Ferrari cars from pushing hard. Whilst Ascari and Farina lead the race, Taruffi is performing a storming comeback after his dreadful start.

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By the end of lap four, Taruffi finds his way back into fourth position. Dropping out of the race is Collins's HWM, pulling into the pits on lap three to retire with half shaft failure. Rosier then pulls out of the race with transmission failure on lap six. Wharton in sixth place then has a major accident, his Frazer Nash spinning backwards at Stavelot and crashing through a barbed wire fence. Wharton is lucky to emerge with only cuts and bruises following a major accident. Taruffi's rise to fourth place is swift, however Behra sitting in third place is proving much more troublesome to overtake. After ten laps of sitting behind Behra, Taruffi finally move into third place on lap fourteen. However this does not last long, only a couple of corners after passing Behra, Taruffi spins his car at Malmedy, Behra behind has no where to go and collides with the spinning Taruffi. Both cars end up in a ditch on the side of the circuit, however whilst they both luckily emerge from their wrecks, they are both out of the race. The Aston Butterworth's debut come to an end when Montgomerie-Charrington pull out of the race with engine failure on lap seventeen. The race is left to be fairly processional, Ascari is dominating at the front of the race with Farina in a comfortable second. Mike Hawthorn is doing an amazing job on his world championship debut, he is running as high as third, however Manzon, who takes up the Gordini charge following Behra's retirement is overtaken Brown and Frère to move into fourth position. Hopes for a podium on his debut are dashed for Hawthorn when he is forced into a pit stop due to a leaky fuel tank.

 

The rain eases off towards the end of the race, the drivers taking it relatively easy in the race's final stint. Ascari wins the race after creating almost a two-minute gap ahead of Farina, who finishes in second position. Ascari falls just short of a Grand Chelem, having led all of the laps of the race, with the exception of the first lap in which Behra is the leader. This is his first of five Grand Chelems that he scores in his career. Manzon is pleased to come home in third to score his first podium, the Gordini's proving they can be a somewhat frustration to Ferrari's domination. Cooper once again scores points in the championship, the youthful Hawthorn impressing all to score a fourth place finish in his private Cooper T20. Paul Frère is a popular fifth place, the Belgian motorsport journalist demonstrating his worth by scoring points at his home race. De Tornaco, Claes, Brandon, Bira, Macklin, Laurent, Legat, O'Brien and Gaze round out the final finishers in the race. Last place finisher, Gaze, notably hitting a bird in the latter stages of the race. On the same circuit on which his father won the 1925 Belgian Grand Prix before perishing at the Montblery Autodrome, Alberto Ascari drove - once again - his Ferrari two-liter car to victory in the European Automobile Grand Prix. A persistent drizzle made the usually much faster Spa-Francorchamps course dangerous. Twenty thousand spectators watched the race. Ascari was greeted and congratulated by the Prince of Liege, the younger brother of King Baudouin.

 

Ludovico Nicoletti

 

Translated by Alessia Borelli

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